Jackson will coach Lakers next season
After just one relaxing week in Montana, Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson decided he can handle another season of the NBA grind.
The two-time defending champions locked up their most important free agent of the summer Thursday when Jackson announced he’ll return next season, putting off retirement for at least another year to chase his 12th NBA title.
Jackson said last week he was worn out and leaning toward retirement after the Lakers’ third straight long season culminating in the NBA finals. He changed his mind after a week of rest and health evaluation at his offseason home, signing up for the unprecedented chance to win three consecutive NBA championships for the fourth time in his career.
"Count me in," Jackson said. "After a couple weeks of deliberation, it is time to get back to the challenge of putting together a team that can defend its title in the 2010-11 season. It’ll be the last stand for me, and I hope a grand one."
Jackson, who will turn 65 later this year, is the winningest coach in playoff history and the most successful coach in NBA history by almost any measure.
He has a league-best .705 regular-season winning percentage, a record 225 postseason victories and two more titles than Boston’s Red Auerbach, winning five championships with Kobe Bryant’s Lakers and six with Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. His 1,098 regular-season victories are fifth-most in league history.
The Lakers beat the Celtics in Game 7 of the NBA Finals last month to claim their second straight title, wrapping up a season in which Jackson navigated Bryant, Pau Gasol and wild-card newcomer Ron Artest through numerous injuries to win the franchise’s 16th title.
Los Angeles has made the finals in seven of Jackson’s 10 seasons with the club, and they’ll be among the early favorites to win it all again in 2011. The Lakers have surrounded Bryant with a core in its prime and signed to long-term contracts.
"We’re extremely pleased that Phil has decided to return," Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said. "He’s not only the best coach for this team, but quite simply the best coach in the history of the NBA."
Jackson’s health has been a constant concern in recent years, but he apparently feels strong enough for at least another year. The former New York Knicks player sometimes has difficulty getting up and down from the bench while living with two replaced hips, a sore knee requiring a brace under his suit, and a previous heart problem.
The Lakers released no immediate details about Jackson’s new contract. Owner Jerry Buss was widely thought to want Jackson to take a pay cut from the $14 million he earned last season, including a $2 million bonus for winning the title, but Jackson always claimed money wouldn’t be an issue, even if his proclaimed interest in retirement last week could have been interpreted as a negotiating ploy.
Brian Shaw, the former Lakers guard and Jackson’s assistant coach, is thought to be Jackson’s preferred successor. Shaw nearly landed the top job in Cleveland earlier this week after an impressive two-day meeting with the Cavaliers’ brass, but the club abruptly hired former Lakers guard Byron Scott on Thursday – perhaps indicating Shaw is willing to wait in Los Angeles.
After last week’s parade through downtown Los Angeles without Jackson, who was getting medical tests, the Lakers uniformly said they wanted Jackson with them next season. Bryant said the team would be "drastically different" without Jackson’s steady, cerebral presence on the sideline.
Yet his players all had little idea what Jackson planned to do – no surprise, since the coach himself apparently wasn’t sure. Kupchak knew the difficulties of replacing a coach with Jackson’s singular accomplishments, saying he would be willing to wait until late July for Jackson to decide.
After winning two rings in a Knicks uniform and coaching in the CBA, Jackson won his first NBA title in his second season running the Bulls, who eventually won three straight titles from 1991-93 and again from 1996-98.
After a year off, he immediately led the underachieving Lakers to three straight championships from 2000-02, meshing the egos and talents of Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal to re-establish the team as an NBA power. Los Angeles also made the NBA finals in 2004, but lost to Detroit. Jackson then took another year off before returning to the Lakers’ bench.
The Lakers have reached the last three NBA finals, losing to Boston in 2008 before routing the Orlando Magic last year for their 15th title. Jackson also became the winningest coach in Lakers history in early February, surpassing Pat Riley with his 534th victory.
With Jackson back in the fold, the Lakers will work on supplementing their depth and sorting out their situation at point guard, where veteran and playoff star Derek Fisher is an unrestricted free agent.
The Lakers reached out to Fisher in the opening hours of free agency, but could have difficulty re-signing the veteran if he gets a lucrative offer from another team. Los Angeles already is well over the projected salary cap for next season even before filling out its roster.